For five years now, I’ve spent 3 to 4 months of my year in Toronto (late winter / spring, mostly), and I just returned from another 3-month stay. Now Alex – a German friend of mine – and her partner are in town, and she’s asked me for recommendations: food, activities, stores, trips etc..
I’m not a very activity-minded person and spend most of my Toronto time in libraries, bookstores and cafés. I’m sure there’s lots of cool stuff that I’ve missed or dismissed. For what it’s worth: Here are my recommendations.
- All-you-can-eat Sushi, cheap: Mariko’s (Bloor / Bathurst)
- All-you-can-eart Sushi, amazing: New Sushi Island (Little Italy)
- Dim Sum, cheap: Rol San (Chinatown)
- Vegetarian Asian, cheap: King’s Café (Kensington Market)
- Indian: Banjara (Bloor / Christie)
- Korean Barbecue (highly recommended!): Korean Village (Bloor / Koreatown)
There are also many, many cheap restaurants in Greektown / The Danforth.
In 2012, I made another list of Toronto restaurant recommendations HERE.
Breakfast and Cafés:
- Jewish Brunch, every Sunday morning: Free Times Café (College / Spadina)
- Cakes (expensive, but good): Future (Bloor / Bathurst)
- cheap, good breakfast sandwiches: Sky Blue Sky Sandwiches (Bloor / Bathurst)
- coffee / brownies: Tango Palace (Queen Street East, Leslieville)
- a café where you can play hundreds of board games: Snakes & Lattés (Bloor)
- interesting Starbucks? The hipster one (link), the gay one (link), the yuppie one (link) and my favorite working place in the east end (link).
Snacks and Fast Food:
- I like Tim Hortons donuts and danishes: their Maple Dip donut, their Canadian Maple dount, the Sour-Cream Glazed donut and the Maple Pecan danish are all pretty good. At Second Cup, I often get a Strawberry Lemonade Fruit Chiller.
- Mondays to Fridays, between ca. 5.30 pm and 6.30 pm, you can get two boxes of (good) sushi for about 7 dollars at Sushi on the Run at College Park / Yonge and College.
- Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches are pretty good. You can get them in Chinatown.
- There’s a bunch of good Portugese bakeries at Bloor and Ossington, a bunch of good (if fatty / unhealthy) Chinese bakeries in Chinatown and a famous and well-beloved (expensive!) chocolate maker, SOMA, at the Distillery District. […don’t go to the Distillery District as a sight-seeing trip, though: It’s just a couple of cobblestone streets that will not surprise / amaze a girl from rural Germany].
- Get a Metropass to use Toronto’s subway, streetcars and busses. A day pass costs $ 10. A weekly pass around 40. A single, one-way trip less than $ 3.
- Groceries – especially cheese and dairy products – are pretty expensive. But eating out is relatively cheap: For $ 15 to $ 25, you will get a good meal. Most days, I spend about $ 25 (EUR 18) on dinner, coffee and snacks.
- Reddit has lots of recommendations, a big and helpful Toronto community and will often let you know about smaller / weirder local quirks and events.
Going out / activities:
- I enjoy watching karaoke at the Gladstone Hotel on Friday nights, starting at about 11 pm. The Drake Hotel is good for food and martini – and has some fun events once in a while, too.
- If you want to get drunk, I’d recommend bars like The Communist’s Daughter on Ossington or gay pubs like O’Grady’s and Churchmouse and Firkin at Church and Wellesley.
- Every Wednesday night, the AGO – Art Gallery of Ontario is free to the public. I like them a lot. There’s also the ROM Museum… but overall, they favor nature over culture, and I’m not very interested in animals and natural history.
- Theatre is pretty expensive. Still: Get a free NOW magazine or look at the events listings of The Grid to find shows, performances, gallery events etc..
- Concerts, on the other hand, are surprisingly cheap. I use last.fm to find out when bands I like come to Toronto, and I often see smaller, more inimate sets of less-known songwriters at the Drake Hotel Underground stage.
- There’s a (free) drag show at Woody’s nearly every night, starting at about 10. There’s also Crews and Tangos, a younger, alternative place that reminded me of lots of horrible, sweaty parties in university. Alex? You will like this a lot. Check out the listings at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, too.
- There are lots of small galleries on Queen Street West, west of Bathurst. Spend a morning / day strolling around there. I like hipster shops / art spaces like Magic Pony, too.
- Kensington Market is charming and hippie-ish, and lots of friends I took there enjoyed the place much more than me. Same goes for the boutiques and jewellery stores on Queen Street West. One German friend loved the greenhouses at Allan Gardens – they are free and a fun way to spend half an hour.
- I love going to the Islands: Take a cheap ferry (to Ward’s Island or Centre Island) and walk all the way to Hanlan’s Point. Highly, highly recommended!
- Smaller and less spectacular than the Islands… so it’s better to do this earlier: Leslieville [my favorite part of the city] and The Beaches. Have a 2 hour walk in the neighborhood, from Queen and Broadview to the Beaches Boardwalk and the water treatment plant where… Miss Parker, Jarod and Sidney live.
- Don’t get tickets for the CN tower. It’s nearly $ 30, and not worth it. A day trip to Niagara Falls was pretty depressing / disappointing, too, and I would not go there again. [That being said… if you DO go, read this wonderful, depressing book by Stewart O’Nan, about depressed people at depressing Niagara Falls!]
Books and Media:
- If you’re looking for cheap second-hand books… go to ABC Books (Yonge / Wellesley), the small, central BMV Books (Yonge / Edward), the bigger BMV Books (Bloor / Bathurst), She said Boom! (College / Spadina). A small and rather depressing BMV store on Queen Street West is going out of business and has 40 % off their remaining merchandise.
- Things that helped me make sense… of Toronto? “One Week” (movie, link), “Scott Pilgrim” (movie, link), “Cat’s Eye” (novel, Margaret Atwood, link). “The Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues” is drawn by Toronto comic book artist Francis Manapul and has a nice Toronto vibe, too [even though it’s set in the fictional Central City in the Midwest].
- I often enjoy reading the Toronto Standard. The Globe and Mail is the best national paper. Local blogger Franco Cignelli has some good restaurant recommendations / pictures of city life.
- Does the Goethe-Institute have any interesting events while you’re in town? Find out here.